Saturday, February 22, 2014

Women in Horror: Martyrs

Lucie and Anna are inseparable. They met as children in an orphanage and became fast friends. Lucie was horribly abused before this and still experiences attacks by an emaciated creature. Anna was also a victim of child abuse and she works to protect and support Lucie. Fast forward fifteen years, and Lucie kills an entire family with a shotgun because she believes they were the ones who abused her. Anna is understandably shocked by the news. She has her doubts that Lucie killed the right people, but frantically tries to bury the bodies anyway. After finding a hidden room that leads to an underground torture chamber, Anna is plunged into a bizarre world of torture, agony, and transcendence.

I have conflicted feelings about Martyrs because it feels like two disparate films stuck together. The first one is focused on Anna and Lucie's relationship. At the orphanage, their relationship dynamic was created where Anna is Lucie's strength and protects her from others and herself. Unfortunately, Lucie is beyond the help Anna provides. No amount of love or compassion can stop the violent hallucinations accompanied by Lucie's extreme self mutilation and other breaks with reality. These episodes started after the abuse and never stopped. I can understand Anna's urge to help and protect Lucie, but cleaning up her mass murder and acting like it's ok is a bit extreme. Keeping Lucie's severe problems secret may make her happy in the short term, but actively keeping her from authority figures who can actually help her creates the toxic circle of codependency and destruction. This relationship dynamic is rooted in reality. Plenty of people find themselves in relationships with those like Lucie who will harm and eventualy destroy them. Their love for that person makes it impossible to turn away and abandon them. Lucie and Anna's relationship ends when Lucie realizes that nothing can stop her hallucinations and she kills herself. I would have liked to seen entire film about these two women's relationship. We only get to see a small sliver it and then fifteen years are skipped over. Why didn't Lucie get the mental health services she obviously needed? Why does Anna's mother hate Lucie? This part of the film is underdeveloped and unfortunately the part I found the most interesting.

The second film is about a twisted organization that tortures young women in an effort to get them to a state of transcendence, allowing the members to find out what is after death. It starts when Anna finds a hidden torture room and attempts to save the horribly scarred chained woman she finds there. It reflects her relationship with Lucie because this woman is beyond help, but Anna can't turn away. This effort is futile because the woman is too psychologically damaged to realize Anna is trying to help her. Because she stayed in the house trying to save the woman, the goon squad from the organization captured her and put her in the torture room to hopefully get her to transcend. Thematically, this part is solid. An aging woman heads the organization and sacrifices young woman after young woman to essentially feel better about her own mortality. It's an older generation destroying the younger generation to continue their agency and power. In actual practice, it's kind of boring. The organization is explained by the leader, followed by a seemingly interminable torture scene. After a while, it just gets dull and takes up way too much of the film. It ends when Anna is skinned alive and magically survives the procedure. This scene is surprising and shocking, but ruined by the fact that Anna would have died of shock, blood loss, or infection before she ever got close to her moment of transcendence. I just couldn't maintain the suspension of disbelief needed for it to be truly effective and the ending fell flat for me as a result.

Martyrs is undeniably a unique film that tries to tackle deeper issues to ascend about the torture porn genre. Unfortunately, the film is really two not very well developed ideas trying to be one. I would have loved to see more of Lucie and Anna's relationship and how it developed over time. The second half depends too much on the repetitive, mind-numbing torture that is essentially wasted space. The ending is beyond ridiculous. The film unfortunately falls short for me. The performances are amazing, especially Morjana Alaoui and Mylene Jampanoi who make Anna and Lucie's relationship intensely interesting with very little development. The cinematography makes even extreme gore and blood look artfully beautiful. I would urge fans of more extreme horror to watch it at least once, but others would probably do well to avoid this one.

My rating: 6/10 fishmuffins

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